A couple of Thursdays ago, I attended the “Beer Bash” at Willow Park, which craft beer fans should check out next year if they have not gone yet. I had a great time drinking different craft beers from all kinds of microbreweries and snacking on tasty food. However, the real highlight of the night for me was being able to talk to Big Rock Brewery’s Brewmaster, Paul Gautreau. Meeting Paul made me think about how much I like where he is steering Big Rock.
A Little on Paul Gautreau
Paul started brewing craft beer like most enthusiasts, in his home. He later went on to take courses on brewing and has a diploma from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. He is still a firm believer that the best way to learn how to brew beer is through hands on experience. So you best start homebrewing boys & girls if you want to break into this industry.
Big Rock Brewery was established in 1985 and they hired Paul as one of their first employees, he has now been working there for roughly 28 years. Because he started out with Big Rock at the beginning he still retains much of their original values. These values are what attracted Alberta craft beer fans to the brewery in the first place. It was the continued growth and enthusiasm of this fan base that put the brewery on the map in the world of craft beer.
Somewhere along the way Big Rock started to drift away from their craft beer roots. This is a danger for all breweries. Once they reach a certain level of growth the desire to continue expanding could interfere with the actual art and science of brewing quality beer.
Enter Paul Gautreau as Big Rock’s 3rd Brewmaster. With his ties to the craft beer roots that Big Rock started out with and his love of homebrewing Paul was the guy that could set the ship back on course (if only Blackberry could find someone like him!)
With the Brewmaster’s & Alchemist Editions, Paul and the Big Rock team are able to experiment with different flavours and try various brewing methods. This constant search for new and exciting craft beers is what keeps guys like me coming back for more. Here are some of my favourites:
Notable Big Rock Craft Beer Releases
Erratic Stone-Fired Ale
Even before I had the chance to try Erratic I knew that this was something that I was going to enjoy. As a history buff I am someone who gets excited about the past.
The idea behind Erratic was to use a Medieval Brewing process to create something called “steinbier”. Basically, extremely hot slabs of granite (in this case B.C. granite was used) are lowered into the kettle. The reason for this was that during the Medieval period wooden kettles were used to brew beer. So a direct flame could not be used to heat the brew otherwise you would end up with a bonfire, not beer.
The high temperature from the stones tends to burn some of the malt sugars, this gives a slight caramel flavour and hints of smoke to the beer. And the use of hard water from the Rockies was a perfect touch to go with the dark malts.
The fact that this craft beer uses an ancient brewing process and has a layered flavour profile ensures that Erratic holds a special spot in my beer fridge.
Monkey’s Fist Royal IPA
The name of this IPA makes me think of Kung Fu movies. Plus, the name fits, with the hefty dose of British hops & higher alcohol percentage this beer has a bit of a wallop!
Brewmaster Paul has commented on how the craft beer market has an abundance of IPA’s using citrusy hops such as Cascade. That is why he chose to create this IPA using all British hops.
The result is an IPA with an enjoyable bitter flavour from the hops but with a more leafy, earthy & spicy character.
This is a German festival beer commonly seen during Oktoberfest. Marzen is the German word for March, which is when this style of beer is brewed. It is then aged until the end of September, when Oktoberfest starts in Germany (does anyone else feel misled by the name?)
It is a smooth amber, malty lager with a nice toasty flavour that is mixed with notes of fruit and spice from the hops.
It’s a perfect beer to drink out of steins while enjoying some traditional Bavarian fare.
The most recent release is their Lumberjack Pack. These 3 beers were brewed to reflect flavours that are associated with Canadian winters.
These tastes include the herb & berry flavours of “Hibernation Ale”; the woodsy flavour from spruce tree tips in “Spruce Goose”; and the intriguing combination of coffee and licorice in the “Twisted Antler” dark ale.
Possible Additions to the Regular Lineup
I would be happy to see any one of these craft beers return in the future and possibly even earn a spot on the regular production lineup. If the Big Rock team decides that a particular beer would complement the regular rotation and the consumers (that’s all us beer-drinkin’ Albertans) show it some love, it could make a reappearance. In fact, I’ve heard that some of the special releases from last year will be back again next year.
Two well-known beers, “Scottish Style Heavy Ale” and “ Saaz Republic Pilz ” started out as Brewmaster’s Editions and are now a part of the regular line in the Ed McNally Signature Series.
This is great because I particularly enjoy the combination of rich malts with caramel, peat and oak in the “Scottish Heavy”. I like to drink a Single Malt Scotch now & then and I tend to favour the smoky/peaty ones from Islay; so having a stronger beer with a hint of peat is right down my alley.
The Nano Brewery
The recent addition of a Nano Brewery seems to send us a message that brewmaster Paul will be working on releasing more unique beer creations in the future.
Using a smaller, 300 litre system, allows for more creative experimentation. If something doesn’t turn out quite right, it won’t be a huge loss.
Big Rock has also expressed some interest in possibly working together with local chefs to brew beers specifically to compliment a select dish. With the rise of Brewmaster Dinners, this should make all of the foodies (and craft beer geeks) out there happy.
Expanding in to BC
An expansion into the BC market is also planned for late 2014. The interesting thing about this is that these beers will be crafted to satisfy the BC craft beer market’s taste profile.
There is a possibility that some of these BC brews will be introduced to the Alberta market to see how they catch on here. As a fan of many BC craft beers, this would be nice to see.
With another 15 new beers scheduled for release next year, I am sure that Big Rock will keep us on our toes. In fact, I have heard that one of the releases will be a series of 3 barrel aged beers. This will include the use of a toasted oak barrel, bourbon barrel and wine barrel. This will be something that I will be all over come next year!
Until next time, cheers to local craft beer!